While the new Z/28 is completely street legal and meets all federal requirements, it is as simple as an anvil, and as light as they could make it. There's no noise insulation anywhere. It comes with lightweight rear seats because no one will ever sit in them. The front seats are Recaro lightweight racing seats. There is an AM radio with one speaker in the driver's door, and A/C is a stand-alone option. There are no floor or trunk mats. The 427 engine is 64 pounds lighter than an LSA V-8. The car comes in at 3837 pounds ready to race.
What will it do? For starters, it will generate at least 1.08g on the skidpad, maybe more in final trim. It now holds the lap record at GM's own race track at the Milford Proving Grounds, some .7 seconds quicker than the ZL1 version. And it's substantially quicker than the Mustang Shelby GT500, the Boss 302 Laguna Seca, and the Camaro 1LE package.
Oppenheiser says, "At the Nurburgring, every day at five o'clock, when we could start running, it started to rain. We put on a thousand miles at the Nurburgring, and every one of those laps was under eight minutes, which is incredible. Our fastest lap, 7:37.40, was in the rain, four seconds faster than the ZL1 was, and faster than the published times for the Porsche 911 S and the Lamborghini Murcielago."
He says, "I would put our drivers up against anybody. We ask them to go out in handbuillt cars with first-time suspension settings and first-time engine calibrations, and they are the first ones that need to have the balls to go wide-open-throttle through high-speed essees when nobody else has done it before. It takes a heroic effort in order to make the car what it is."
Where, when and how the new Z/28 Camaro will be raced remains to be seen, especially in light of the merger between the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) and the Rolex Grand Am series, which has created the United Sports Car Championship with a new class and rules package for GT cars.
Oppenheiser says, "We're still working on which class and which sanctioning body the Z/28 might fall into. It's more for the weekend racer and private track user. We have the 1LE that runs in SCCA. We're working with Mark Kent and the Performance Group on that. The goal is to offer a track car that a guy can take anywhere and win."
We'd love to tell you what the new Z/28 is like to drive ourselves, but we can't. This time around, for lots of legal reasons, we were only passengers. In our case, we were driven around in the passenger Recaro by young Bill Wise, the vehicle performance engineer who developed the ride, handling and braking of the Z/28 on the Milford Road Course at the GM Proving Grounds.
Vehicle development boss described the course before we went out. "The Milford Road Course is a 2.9-mile road course, and we've taken sections of the best tracks in the world and replicated them here. The car is never in a steady-state mode here. It's always doing something that relies on the suspension system, the braking system, the horsepower or the tire grip."
The course has six major corners and some high-speed esses, some of which are duplicates of corners at the Spring Mountain track in Nevada, a 37-degree banked section, (for reference, Daytona is 31 degrees, Talladega 33 degrees), esses copied from the Nurburgring, substantial elevation changes, and not much straightaway, so that a test driver is turning, braking and accelerating constantly.
In testing, the engineers would run 22 laps, fill the car up with gas, check the tires, and go back out again until 24 hours of full-throttle driving had been accumulated, the equivalent of many, many racetrack sessions for the amateur racer.
In our case, we were given one hot lap in the right seat, and one cooldown lap, and the maneuvers that the new Z/28 can generate in terms of acceleration, braking force and cornering are so violent that Joe had us on the brink of barfing, and our neck hurt for two days after the event from the forces generated inside the car.
The most noticeable difference for us was that Wise was able to wait until a point well past the last braking marker (4-3-2-1) to apply the brakes, the Brembos are so powerful and repeatable. Chevrolet says the braking point has been extended by whopping 238 feet going down into Turn One.
It was a short, scary ride, and a close-to-hurling-chunks ride, but very educational in terms of what this car can do. Next time, we'll be behind the wheel. We won't see the first production car until the end of the first quarter of 2014. It will be available in a build of 3,000-4,000 units over the next couple of years, and is priced at $75,000, including gas guzzler tax and destination—about what you'd pay for a restored first-gen Z/28 at auction, probably less. Air conditioning and six speakers for the stereo are $1,150 extra.
For those who already have a new Camaro, there is some hope of technology transfer. Oppenheiser told us, "Now that we have all these awesome parts, we're working with our GM Performance Parts people to try to make them available for those SS owners who might want to upgrade their cars with some of these parts."